Shah Mosque is in the historic heart of the city of Isfahan. This blue-tiled mosque is one of the main pillars of Isfahan’s 400 year old square. This square is the world famous and UNESCO recognized Naqsh-e Jahan Square. On each four corners of Naqsh-e Jahan Square, there is a masterpiece of architecture. Each of these monuments used to be a center of something during the reign of Safavids in Iran. Below, we will get into the details of the Shah Mosque, the main pillar of religion in Naqsh-e Jahan Square. To fit the grandeur of the third largest square in the world, this mosque was architected in the most stunning way. The Shah Mosque is also known as Imam Mosque, Jame Abbasi Mosque, Sultani Mosque and Royal Mosque.
Iran Mosques and the significance of Shah Mosque
Throughout the history of Islamic art, we can see a set of elements in the construction of mosques. Accordingly, this Mosque is one of the most completed and elaborated examples of Islamic architecture. Many masters of Islamic architecture had a part in the designs and construction of this mosque. That is why, Shah Mosque was the source of inspiration for many other mosques. As an example, the double-shell dome of Shah Mosque is one of its world famous features. This type of double shell-dome architecture also appeared in Santa Maria Del Fiore in Florence and Soltanieh Dome. In summary, every corner of this mosque has its own significance. Below we will get into the points of interest, history, and architecture of this mosque. We will also talk about the best time to visit to enjoy its eye-catching turquois and blue tilework and designs.
Facts & History
Around 400 years ago, the great ruler of Safavid Dynasty, Shah Abbas, ordered the construction of Shah Mosque. This was due to the reason that he had just declared Isfahan as his capital. He accordingly wanted to make changes to Isfahan as his new capital. He also wanted to stablish a new center of commerce and government in Isfahan. For this, he wanted to build a vast square called Naqsh-e Jahan. In addition to Naqsh-e Jahan Square, he ordered the construction of Shah Mosque as the religious center of Safavid Dynasty.
Shah Mosque Today
According to several historians, Shah Mosque or the Jame Abbasi Mosque was completed after almost 18 years. Shah Abbas the Great himself died before ever seeing the completed masterpiece. Today, this mosque has stayed untouched (with a few renovations in the following eras). In the heart of its blue and turquoise tilework, there are many hidden genius designs and architecture. Below, we will be walking through different parts and architectural highlights of Shah Mosque.
Points & Architectural highlights
There are several architectural highlights that make Shah Mosque different from other Iran Mosques. Vakil Mosque in Shiraz and Jameh Mosque of Yazd are the two other famous Jameh Mosques in Iran. Thousands of tourists come to Iran to visit every single one of these mosques. Notably, these mosques share the same purpose which is being the new mosques for a new capital or reign. Yet, each of them represent a different kind of school of art during a certain era. Now, Let us start our walk through different parts and highlights of Shah Mosque.
What to expect before entering Shah Mosque
While visiting Shah Mosque, there are certain elements that will catch your interest. Some of these main elements are:
- The special ‘’Haft Rang Tiling’’:
A special type of tiling which translates as Seven Color Tiling, covers almost every part of the mosque. For a vast mosque like the Shah Mosque, this kind of tiling was the most convenient one. The colors of blue and turquoise stand out the most in the designs of the tiles. That is why, Blue Mosque is another famous name of Shah Mosque.
- The Spiritual meanings behind the patterns and colors:
The blue color that we mentioned earlier somehow represent the sky. The floral patterns, according to some researches, symbolize the heaven that is described in Quran. The symmetry and unity of patterns on the other hand indicate concepts such as oneness of God and also humanity.
- The inscriptions and calligraphies around the mosque:
These inscriptions range from Quranic verses to the words of the king himself. The masterful calligraphies are the works of the famous Alireza Abbasi and his followers Abdolbaqi Tabrizi and Mohammad Reza Emami.
The main gate that faces Naqsh-e Jahan Square
The elegant and high gate of Shah Mosque stands out in Naqsh-e Jahan Square. You have to raise your head to the sky to grasp the whole beauty of this gate. Aside from the tilework and calligraphies, on the top of the gate you can see some Muqarnas Work. Muqarnas is a significant type of Islamic Architecture for the vaults. Due to its shape it is sometimes called stalactite and honeycomb vaulting. Two minarets with 42 meters of height rise from this gate. This main gate is the only part of the mosque that does not have Seven Color tiling. Instead, you can see a more elaborate kind of tiling called Moqelli tilework.
The Genius behind the Gate of Shah Mosque
There is a general rule for constructing any mosque. The rule is that every mosque should face the direction of the Kaaba (the sacred mosque in Mecca). As we mentioned earlier, Shah Mosque is a part of the Naqsh-e Jahan Square. For keeping the proportions of the square, the main gate of Shah Mosque was not in the direction of Kaaba. Instead, the architect designed an angled gate behind the main gate. Through the hallway of this gate, the visitors, without noticing, are turning 45 degrees. In this way, the rest of the mosque and the visitors are facing the Kaaba. Sheikh Lotfollah, the famous mathematician of the era was the person who did the calculations for this genius plan.
Behind the gate to the Courtyard
After entering the mosque through silver doors, you have to pass the angled hallway to face the Kaaba. The first thing that you will see in the hallway is a big stone bowl. This special kind of bowl is ‘’ Sangab’’. These stone bowls, filled with water, would have provided drinking water for the visitors. Some might argue that the water was for washing the hands and the face before prayer. There are 6 more of these Sangab around the mosque.
The Four-iwan Courtyard of Shah Mosque
After passing through the dim hallway, you will reach the courtyard of Shah Mosque. In the middle of the mosque, there is pool that perfectly matches the plan of the courtyard. Notably, Shah Mosque has a Four-iwan Plan. This means that there are four portals around the mosque. These portals each have a special elaborated pattern. But, as a whole, they perfectly represent unity.
The four iwans of the Shah Mosque are:
- The iwan that is connected to the main gate
- The Main iwan with 33 meters of height that leads to the main dome (vault) of Shah Mosque. Two Minarets with 48 meter of height rise from the sides of this iwan.
- The western iwan which leads to the Naseri School (attributed to Nasser al-Din Shah Qajar for some reformations)
- The eastern iwan which leads to the Sulaimaniyah School (attributed to Shah Suleiman the Safavid)
The famous double-shell dome of Shah Mosque
The most masterful part of the Mosque is the main vault. This vault is crowned with a dome with 52 meters of height. This azure onion dome and its tall minarets are visible from anywhere in the Naqsh-e Jahan Square. The most notable thing about this dome is its double-shell feature. On the inside, there is 16 meters of space between the inner dome and the outer dome. This design gives the dome a better strength. Also, below this dome, for its architecture, your voice echoes perfectly.
The Prayer Halls of Shah Mosque (Shabestans)
On the eastern and western sides of the main Vault, there are two prayer halls. The eastern prayer hall is bigger with a simpler design. However, the western prayer hall is richer in tilework. There is also a 14-step Menbar (pulpit) made of marble there. It is worth mentioning that in Iranian architecture, different parts are for different seasons. In this way, every corner of a building serves a purpose. That said, each of the theology schools, and the prayer halls were for a specific season.
Other unique parts of Shah Mosque
- The Triangle stone in Sulaimaniyah School. Sheikh Baha’i, the master architect of the Safavid era, designed this piece of stone. With this stone, they could have calculated the time of prayer.
- The ancient watering system of Shah Mosque.
When and where can I visit?
Shah Mosque is open from 9 AM to 12:30 PM and also from 2 PM to 5 PM. keep in mind that during the second half of the year (autumn and winter) the Mosque is open:
- From 9 AM to 11:30 AM
- From 1 PM to 4:30 PM
Shah mosque closes during special Islamic holidays.
The Location of Shah Mosque
As for the location of Shah Mosque, it is on the southern part of Naqsh-e Jahan Square. The best way to get to Shah Mosque is by getting on the subway. You can get off at Imam Hossein Station and walk to Naqsh-e Jahan Square. Taxi and Online Taxi Apps are also available in Isfahan.
Attractions near Shah Mosque
Shah Mosque is in the historic heart of Isfahan. That said, you can visit many other significant attractions in Isfahan which are nearby. Shah Mosque, as mentioned before, is a part of the Naqsh-e Jahan Square complex. Sheikh-Lotfollah Mosque, Qeysarieh Bazaar, and Ali Qapu Palace are the other important monuments of this complex.
You can also visit the attractions below:
- The UNESCO site of Chehel Sotun Palace and Garden
- Hakim Mosque
- Hasht Behesht Palace
- Chahar Bagh Street
- Sio-se-Pol Bridge
Aside from the historical attractions, Isfahan has much more to offer. Accordingly, Isfahan is the center of Handicraft in Iran as it became the World Craft city in 2015. You can explore many handicraft stores and even workshops in Qeysarieh Bazaar. Also, make sure you try the local Food & Signature Dishes of Isfahan before leaving this historic city. For more information, you can check out our blog’s post about Isfahan, its points of interest & things to do.